Greater Than the Death Penalty: The NCAA’s Reactions to the Sandusky Scandal

Released today were the sanctions imposed by the NCAA on Penn State in reaction to the child abuse scandal and cover-up by university officials, including Joe Paterno, the university presidents and the athletics director. This is actually not the end of story, as there will be additional court battles down the line for civil lawsuits by each of the families affected, but this could symbolically be the biggest penalty enacted on the football program and athletic department. Included within the sanctions are the following:

  • $60 million of fines, which will be used to set up an endowment for the protection of victims and families discovered in the future.
  • Revenues of approximately $13 million from Big Ten bowl proceeds over the next 4 years will be allocated to child protection agencies in the Big Ten community.
  • A 4-year postseason ban for the football program.
  • A reduction of 10 scholarships initially and then 20 scholarships per year for the next 4 years.
  • The opportunity for players to transfer out of the program without any waiting period at the potential new schools.
  • A wins will be vacated from the records between 1998 and 2011, including postseason play.
  • A 5-year probation of the program.
  • A partnership with a representative for academic integrity, as chosen by the NCAA board.

To say that these sanctions will make up for the wrongful acts is completely false. There is nothing that could be done to fully repair the damage to the lives of the victims and families. The scar that this leaves on the university and the Penn State community is one they will have to wear for the rest of their existence.

This combination of sanctions are actually unheard of, as no other schools has been penalized in such a crippling way. A “death penalty” ruling would have stopped the program for whatever time period of the committee’s choosing, but this will drop the program into a pit much deeper and difficult to get out of than “Hell on Earth” from The Dark Knight Rises. Players have the opportunity to leave the program, Penn State will be unable to recruit the same kind of talent they were used to and the decreased revenue will more than level their ability to compete at the D-Ia level for years.

It is about a culture change and punitive damages that can be used to support purposeful causes. Still, some of the elements seem to be out of place in the grand scheme of the situation. The financial penalties seem 100% justified, and everyone can be sure that there will be more forthcoming. The probation and the scholarship reduction both seem to support a reduction of support for the program during a time that they need to be taken off of their pedestal. The academic integrity partnership is one that should hopefully provide guidance toward a new direction for the program. Allowing the current and future players to leave and compete elsewhere provides a protection for those who no longer want to be associated with a tarnished program, while also taking another knock of the program off of the pedestal.

Where the potential challenges arise are with the penalties that do more to punish those not involved in the scandal than those who are. The process of vacating wins is something that is seemingly just for the record books, but the scandal had little to do with the team’s on-the-field success. One could argue that the cover-up protected Paterno and his crew from the possible limitations of recruiting and management if the scandal were unleashed sooner. All of this could have been avoided if they had simply reported Sandusky the instant they discovered his wrongdoing. Still, this penalty tarnishes the records of more than just Paterno and the program (which is justified). All of the players at Penn State will be associated with the scandal and their wins during this time period will be called into question, even from the symbolic standpoint. Also, if you are not going to impose the “death penalty” for such heinous acts, why take it out on the current players if they are able to perform at a championship level? The ability to transfer helps players take matters into their own hands, but the process could be more difficult that initially identified for these players to transfer.

It is important to keep everything in perspective, as even I had mixed reactions to the final announcement of the sanctions. The main purposes for the sanctions were to acknowledge the wrongdoing at the university, break the program from its pedestal and begin to rebuild anew. The struggles for the victims and their families have not ended with these sanctions or even the incarceration of Jerry Sandusky. At the same time, people in power at the university are ultimately the ones responsible for the wrongdoing, and it is challenging to think that their egregious actions (or inaction) are going to tarnish the history of the players, alum and community who knew not of the crimes, as well as the current players who saw Penn State as an opportunity for their future. Sandusky has left the ultimate mark of shame on Penn State and college sports, and Paterno and the Penn State elite did nothing to help their university community.

For ESPN’s reporting on the sanctions, please take a look at the link below:

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s